By 11:30 a.m. Monday, Mark Hodesh had learned a lesson: If you build it, they will come.
A hungry crowd swarmed into the small landscaped rectangle of land behind Hodesh’s Downtown Home and Garden in Ann Arbor for the opening day of Mark’s Carts, what eventually will be a collection of 10 individually owned and operated street food carts.
By 11:30 a.m., the lines to the five food carts that kicked off the day started to form. By noon, the wait for food at some of the carts was 15 minutes or longer, and by 12:30, some of the carts had run out of some menu items.
It was, a glowing Hodesh said, a successful day.
“Half of this is about good food, but the other half is about being social,” he said.
It was Art Fair crowded, but without the humidity, as downtown workers jammed into the courtyard, sitting on temporary benches and wall edges in the bright May sunshine, eating braised pork cheek, barbecue tofu and pork ‘n beans.
The food cart courtyard is an idea whose time has come, said Ryan Werder, standing and eating in front of Darcy’s Cart, which features a locally sourced menu of carnitas, warm mushroom salad, flourless chocolate cake and more. “I didn’t know we needed it, but clearly we do.”
Frank Szollosi, who said his carnitas from Darcy’s Cart were “outstanding,” agreed.
“It puts people to work, it generates revenue for the owner and taxes for the city and it’s great for mixing. There is a social vibe,” he said.
And it gives vegetarians more options, said Anne Henningfeld.
“I’ve been waiting and waiting for this. I love street food. We don’t have enough vegetarian food in Ann Arbor,” she said.
It’s going to give downtown workers more options, said Ellen Chaney, who works downtown and eats lunch out every day.
“It’s nice to have something different. I’m tired of going to the same places all of the time,” she said.
Keith Ewing, owner of the Humble Hogs food cart, said the turnout exceeded his wildest imagination. An hour after opening, he ran out of macaroni and cheese. His headcheese hoagies sold out soon after that.
It’s Ewing’s first foray into entrepreneurship. He’d lived in Ann Arbor for 13 years before he moved to Houston for a job. But he lost that job and began soul searching.
“I began to examine myself and thought, what means a lot to me,” he said. “And I realized that food means a lot to me. I wanted to pursue my heart.”
Humble Hogs, he said, offers a heritage bistro menu.
“It’s food that has a history, like headcheese,” Ewing said. “Whole hog typifies that. It’s eating, but without being trendy. It’s more anti-trendy, but slow cooking, like pork and beans.”
It wasn’t only the lunch crowd that spilled out of the courtyard, on to the sidewalk and across West Washington Street that announced the debut. A mix of aromas — pork confit, Korean barbecue, chorizo sausage — wound around the neighborhood.
Hodesh hopes to add a cart with Indian food soon, and is still looking for two more carts, perhaps a Jamaican/Caribbean cart and maybe a wood-fired pizza cart. He has received 35 applications for carts.
While Mark’s Carts hours will be 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, each cart will set its own hours. For hours, menus and updates, go to http://www.markscartsa2.com.